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Inside Heavy Medal

Informational Book With Made-Up Bits

Heavy Medal LogoSome followers of Heavy Medal asked about Subject Headings and their potential influences over the Sibert or Newbery Committee members’ decisions. I went ahead and queried one of the 2017 Sibert Committee members, Gail Nordstrom, a public library consultant at the Viking Library System, Minnesota.  She also served on Newbery and Caldecott committees.

My email query to Gail,

There were some questions about how Sibert Committee determines what books are informational and what are not. Did you go by catalog headings or ignored them and determined on your own? Was this ever an issue that the Committee had to grapple with? Of course, no specifics of the committee discussion — just some clarification of the procedure/criteria will be really helpful.

Gail wrote back,

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet seen GIVE BEES A CHANCE, though I recall reading the Horn Book review. Wearing my Sibert hat, I can’t speak to the choice of classification headings for …BEES… but it wouldn’t have affected my decision on whether the book were eligible for the Sibert Award. For me, each book stood on its own merits, regardless of LC classification and/or the CIP data. That said, I personally struggled throughout the year with the distinction between “nonfiction” (which is *not* what the award is for) and “informational books” (what the award *is* for).

Page 8 in the Sibert Award Committee manual (rev. January 2016), under “Definitions” (and also on the Sibert home page), reads:

Informational books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material for children.

Page 62 of the manual, under “Book Eligibility Issues” further elaborates:

Informational books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material. The primary intention of the author and/or illustrator is to inform the reader about a topic. The verifiable, factual content may be presented in poetry. Ultimately it is up to the committee to use the purpose, terms, definitions and criteria in the manual to determine eligibility of each book. If necessary, the Committee Chair may seek advice from the Priority Group Consultant with questions regarding eligibility.

This paragraph is followed in the manual by a discussion of specific titles that were “judged to be eligible” and ineligible for the award. This is a quick and interesting overview of the issue.

How a book “interpret[s] documentable, factual material” and the “primary intention of the author and/or illustrator” are key to whether a title is regarded as eligible for the Sibert. In my experience, a committee member who suggested or nominated a picture book with fictional elements, for example, had to be prepared to justify how the book fit the definition of an informational book. With this justification, the committee as a whole had to consider whether the book were eligible and would move forward in the selection (i.e., voting) process.

It seems to me that a Sibert Committee member could determine that …BEES… met the definition of an informational book – but would need to be prepared to justify this and override possible skepticism by other committee members.

I’m not sure how the Newbery Committee might approach the book. Personally, it would be easy for me to overlook the LC classification and focus on the book’s merits and distinction. The narration style that might be problematic for a Sibert Committee member might be a strength for a Newbery Committee member.

We are grateful for Gail’s clarification and we hope that this does answer the questions for both Sibert and Newbery consideration.

Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at


  1. steven engelfried says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful information, Gail. That last sentence really rings true…a style that might muddy the waters through a Sibert lens could be a strength from a Newbery perspective. I tend to think that Sibert criteria is more freeing than Newbery, because you get to consider “visual presentation” as an element, but I guess when a book veers into fiction it could be a better fit for Newbery after all….

  2. Thank you for this clarification. I’m glad informational books with a bit of whimsy are not entirely dismissed. I’ve been presenting the difference between Historical Fiction and Historical Fact books to my students. Both types are valuable for young readers who are most likely being presented information for the first time. I’ve wondered how books like Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales would fit in here. I think the fictional narrators are a perfect conduit to drawing young readers into some fairly dense facts.

  3. Thanks so much for providing a thorough response to a question that I’ve had for a while now. Also, I really appreciate all the attention you are giving to this year’s crop of innovative nonfiction/informational books. Writers and illustrators of both narrative nonfiction and expository nonfiction are producing some amazingly creative titles. There’s no doubt about it. Today’s nonfiction must delight as well as inform.

  4. I’m just now seeing this! And I’m flattered to pieces that y’all were even considering my book Give Bees A Chance. I’m passionate about creating books that teach kids to face their fears using facts, humor and empathy. When we learn more about the things that scare us, we figure out *why* they’re the way they are, and we can even learn to appreciate them! And, as a bonus, if we can laugh about the things that scare us, we take away it’s power over us. I think that’s a skill we could all use more of in this world. That’s why I try to make super approachable, relatable, and funny non-fiction. Thanks for reading it, and talking about it. But most of all– thanks for sharing it with young readers in your world.

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